I’ve written about films that I missed in their premiere runs in theaters but subsequently discovered their greatness (“Thank You for Smoking” is just one – click here for my review). Today I’ll add one more to my list of those kind of reviews: the vampire movie “Near Dark.” Actually, it should have been named “Near Perfect” because it is such a superior horror film and, oh my gosh, has actual superlative performances by its actors. The story is clever (it’s a vampire movie but the word “vampire” is never used during the film) and detailed, while its execution is very underrated. “Near Dark” was a bomb at the box office, but quickly found a cult following and it now nears its 28th anniversary this October.
(1987; 94 minutes; rated R; directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Lance Henricksen, Adrian Pasdar and Bill Paxton)
PUZZLING HOW SUCH A GOOD HORROR FLICK FLOPPED
Back in the day I was told by a friend who knew that I enjoyed horror flicks that I should see “Near Dark.” I hadn’t heard of it and I was more into the Jamie Lee Curtis slasher films than vampire efforts, while zombie flicks such as “Dawn of the Dead” from 1978 came in a close second to Jamie Lee. Still, I truly enjoyed vampire efforts such as “The Lost Boys” (click here for my review) from the same year as “Near Dark” and much more popular and the original “Fright Night” from two years before “Near Dark.”
However, when I managed to finally see “Near Dark” on VHS, I was as impressed as I was with “The Lost Boys.” However, I became even more impressed when I watched it again in the past week after recording it on one of the movie channels. I was surprised by its depth and attention to detail in the character development that usually takes a back seat to gore in horror (especially in the past decade).
“Near Dark” is a vampire movie that doesn’t use the “v” word; it actually and truly develops characters and details who and that are not cheesy, campy or vapid. The gore is a bucket-full, but it is not overly gratuitous. Although it has since gained cult status, “Near Dark” is worthy of much more attention and critical acclaim within its genre (it is nearly the equal to the better-known and much cooler “The Lost Boys”). Plus, I cannot name another horror flick that offers such depth of character.
The film doesn’t bog down in vampire life (is that a new MTV show?). You learn that these vampires are sun-averse and can be killed by fire (they actually explode into flames when exposed to the sun). But there’s nothing about being scared by crosses (according to IMDb.com, you can see a cross as part of a design on one vampire’s gun) and there’s nothing about them not being able to be seen in a mirror (one of the usual tip-offs to humans in a vampire flick). The film does show that once bitten, a vampire can be changed back through a blood transfusion.
“Near Dark” is nearly purely character driven with the requisite gore. You’ll find everything from the disturbing – say a child vampire who has adult sexual desires – to something simple – such as finding out how old the leader is through a casual comment (he’s asked how long he’s been in this condition and he says with a wry snap that he “fought for the South” and that indicates he’s about 150 years old in 1987.
The plot is similar to other vampire movies (boy becomes intrigued by girl, who turns out to be a vampire and he begins to become one of them) but it is the character development of the screenplay and the work of the actors that gives this one some depth. The boy is conflicted, especially about making his first kill, and ultimately leaves the group. The subsequent climax of him leaving and battling the group to get his sister back (she’s to become the child vampire’s companion) leaves everything just peachy in the end.
Here’s a rundown of work of some of the primary cast and how they affect the plot:
- Prolific journeyman actor Lance Henriksen, who has 215 acting credits, is the best here by a nose over Bill Paxton. Henriksen plays “Jesse Hooker” and he’s the leader of the vampires. Henriksen plays it cool, even as he spits out a bullet shot into his chest, and brings the mature stability of evil to the character. Henriksen’s experience shows as he is smooth and confident as the vampires’ leader. He’s done a number of horror flicks, but has also done solid dramatic turns as well, including “The Right Stuff” and was nominated three times for Golden Globes for his work on TV’s “Millennium.”
- For pure over-the-top bluster and arrogant menace, I cannot think of another actor better suited the role of “Severen” than Paxton. He does such a great job with a character who relishes evil, violence and, most importantly for a vampire, bloodshed. Paxton’s smile came off a bit goofy as the big brother in “Weird Science” (click here for my review), but in “Near Dark” it comes off as a manifestation of wickedness. A very, very underrated performance from a versatile actor. Paxton was also terrific in “True Lies” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review) and earned three Golden Globe nominations for HBO’s series “Big Love.”
- The boy-girl vampire thing is played by Adrian Pasdar, who plays “Caleb Colton,” and Jenny Wright, who plays “Mae.” Both do solid jobs as Pasdar is the human who becomes the love interest of the night-seeking Wright. While no fanged Romeo and Juliet (he is turned into a vampire before being rescued by a blood transfusion), the two actors do a capable job of projecting the attraction that is the foundation of their relationship. Pasdar was in “Top Gun” and has an extensive resume of TV roles, while Wright was in “The Lawnmower Man” in her short resume of only 27 credits in a career that fizzled in 1998.
- You’ll probably remember (but not necessarily recognize) Jeanette Goldstein as “Diamondback” from other roles – including a heavy-weapons soldier in “Aliens” (click here for my review); “John Connors’” step-mother in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day;” and as the MP killed at the beginning of “The Presidio” (click here for my review). In “Near Dark,” she does an efficient job as Henricksen’s partner and she’s just as evil, twisted and menacing as he projects. It’s very solid work without her trying to overpower any one scene.
- You get just enough of then child actor Josh Miller, who was 13 when “Near Dark” was released (and he now has added a middle name – John), as the youngest vampire “Homer.” He’s almost pathetic in his pining for a love interest even though he is decades old and trapped in a youngster’s body. It could have become a very creepy characterization, but director Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t let it go out of bounds. Miller was in “Teen Witch” and “Death Warrant” before his acting career spluttered out in 2007.
The only other two actors worth mentioning are Tim Thomerson, who plays Pasdar’s father, and Troy Evans, who plays a plain clothes cop who questions Pasdar (in the throes of becoming a vampire) at a bus station. Both actors do their jobs and Thomerson, a veteran of TV and bit parts in films, has the bigger role and you get to know his character. Evans, who was in “Demolition Man” (click here for my review), “Under Siege” (click here for my review) as well as dozens of episodes of TV shows, shows a bit of humanity to an obviously hurting Pasdar in a neat but small turn where his character could have been a cruel jerk who learns the hard way that you don’t screw around with even vampires-in-training. By the way Thomerson was in “Fade to Black” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
As you might imagine, I’m impressed with Bigelow’s work here as both director and co-writer of “Near Dark.” Bigelow knows how to handle actors and keeping the action moving, even when it’s on the emotional side and not just looking for She also did memorable work with the original “Point Break” (click here for my work – or click here for why the remake is dreck) and gave a solid effort in putting together “Blue Steel” with Jamie Lee Curtis.
“Near Dark” was far down the movie rankings for 1987 as it was 128th with ticket sales totaling $3.3 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It was made on a budget of $5 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “3 Men and a Baby” with $167.7 million. The most recent film from that year that I’ve reviewed is “Mannequin” (No. 27 with $42.7 million – click here for my review). Other films from that year that I’ve reviewed include:
- “Full Metal Jacket” with Matthew Modine – click here for my review
- “Adventures in Babysitting” with Elisabeth Shue – click here for my review
- “Maid to Order” with Ally Sheedy – click here for my review
- “The Fourth Protocol” with Michael Caine – click here for my review
- “A Prayer for the Dying” with Mickey Rourke – click here for my review
- “Predator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger – click here for my review
- “No Man’s Land” with Charlie Sheen – click here for my review
- “The Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger – click here for my review
- “Back to the Beach” with Frankie and Annette – click here for my review
- “Summer School” with Mark Harmon – click here for my review
- “Hiding Out” with Jon Cryer – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Bigelow directed the trio of actors from “Aliens,” which was directed by James Cameron. A fourth, Michael Biehn, who played a tough interstellar soldier in the sci-fi classic, was offered “Near Dark,” but declined after reading the script.
- Bigelow and Cameron were married two years after “Near Dark” was released and divorced two years after that
- Bigelow and her co-writer reportedly wanted to do a western, but since the genre didn’t have much traction at the time – and horror did – they decided on the western-ish vampire film.
- As of the date of this blog entry, Henriksen has/had 21 projects completed, shown, in production, in post-production, completed, planned or in the planning stages from 2015 through 2017.
- Wright was previously linked romantically to Nicolas Cage.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “While shooting in the desert, Lance Henriksen relieved the boredom between takes by hopping in his car and taking short drives through the desert, still in costume and often staying in character. According to Henriksen and Bill Paxton, the two were stopped by a policeman who became so unnerved questioning Jesse about his speeding that the officer became visibly uncomfortable, stepping back and placing his hand on his firearm. The obviously flustered officer decided to send them on their way rather than write them a ticket.”
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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